Belize City-based mainstream media mounted an effective boycott of a press conference called by the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital Authority (KHMHA) on July 4, to talk about the results of a recently completed audit.
The boycott came about because KHMH authorities flatly refused to release an advance copy of the audit report.
Several media houses including the Reporter, the Amandala, the Belize Times, Channel 7, Krem T.V., Krem Radio, and Plus T.V. declined the invitation to the press conference because of KHMH’s refusal to share the information.
KHMHA called the press conference to reinforce its position that hospital authorities had not done anything wrong in purchasing supplies and equipment for the hospital from abroad.
Only two media houses attended: Love FM/TV and the UDP-owned Wave Radio and TV.
“If we go, we want to ask questions. But without the audit report, we wouldn’t know where to begin” a Reporter spokesman explained. .
It was the first time the media of Belize had come together in a show of solidarity, and the action was effective.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow intervened and instructed the KHMH to release the audit report.
It was pointed out that the KHMH could release the document under embargo, as many agencies do with time-sensitive information, but hospital authorities were adamant and would not budge.
Barrow had ordered the audit after a former KHMH employee, Delroy Herrera, turned whistle-blower and told the media about a number of irregularities happeing in the hospital’s procurement practices, despite a recent audit which condemned these practices.
He pointed to the use of the hospital’s corporate credit card for personal purposes.
KHMH authorities furiously denied any wrong-doing, going so far as to complain to the police, who took Herrera into custody and interrogated him for hours. Police also seized his computers. He was eventually released without any charge being filed against him.
The Reporter ran a story titled: “Is KHMH wasting money?”
The report, based on documentary evidence obtained from Herrera, zoomed in on one of the hospital’s overseas suppliers in particular, Skilled Solutions.
This newspaper report also infuriated senior personnel at the KHMH, who arranged for a Crown Counsel from the Solicitor General’s Office to threaten the newspaper with libel action.
Elsewhere in this issue The Reporter publishes the findings of the Auditor General.
The audit singled out one supplier, Skilled Solutions of Miami for accepting payment for supplies that were never delivered.
It lists 90 purchases, for mostly small items worth $25,552.74, made between February 2010 and December 2011, which were not documented with a receipt, and 45 items worth $8,473.03 for which the auditor could find no documentation, including several charges for lunch for two at various eating establishments.